While the website(http://valingro.com/) of SPEL Semiconductor’s parent group Valingro quotes Ralph Waldo Emerson “Do not go where the path may lead.. go instead where there is no path and leave a trail”, it seems to follow the well trodden path when it comes to labour violations in its semiconductor plant in Maraimalai nagar. More than 200 workers are on strike for over 50 days since April 2015. They are demanding reinstatement of 20+ workers who have been terminated and 20+ workers who have been suspended for engaging in unionization.
SPEL Semiconductor(http://www.natronix.net/spel.htm), by its statement on its website, is the first and India’s only IC Assembly and testing site, was started in 1988 and has been operational for over 25 years. Its parent group’s chairman is an executive member of FICCI, which has lobbied successfully for the ongoing labour reforms1. The plant employs 350+ permanent workers and 100+ contract workers. Most of the permanent workers are ITI/diploma educated and have been working in the company from 10 to 25 years. According to these workers, workers with 10 years of experience earn a wage of Rs 10000 and those with 25 years of experience earn over Rs 23000. They say that any increment they get is at the inclination of the management, which has provided increments in the order of Rs 50-170 in the past.
While there are three shifts with 8 hour work time, the workers state that often they have to work longer than 8 hours and during national holidays, without overtime pay. While there is a canteen that is run by the company, the food is not subsidized. There is no transport for workers. Workers also express concern about safety norms at the site.
With minimal or no increments over last 6 years and frustrated with the management run welfare committee, the workers have unionized under CITU in December 2013. Coincidentally, three workers including the president and general secretary of the SPEL CITU branch were suspended in March 2014 on the pretext of physically abusing a welfare committee member. A case filed in labour court is still under arbitration in front of JCL. Workers say that the management has not been able to substantiate the allegation and instead moved to terminate the employment of these workers in November 2014. The management is also said to have provided an increment of Rs 1800 per month to non union workers.
Further, the management has also terminated jobs of 18 workers who have been working in the factory for 4 years(2 years on apprenticeship and 2 as trainees). The workers who were on 6 month probation inspite of 4 years of experience, were let go on unsatisfactory performance.
To reinstate the 20+ terminated workers, the union members started an internal strike for 9 days from April 14th. The management is said to have brought the police who forcibly vacated the workers from the plant and the strike has been proceeding since then outside the plant. The management has retaliated by suspending 25 workers and FIRs have been filed on 12 workers for instigating the workers to strike. Appeals to government officials and labour department has been of no use as the workers say that the police and departments work hand in glove with the management.
The demands of the workers include reinstatement of all terminated and suspended workers, removal of all charges against the workers and recognition of the union. The workers also demand backwages on increments provided to the rest of the workers.
Meanwhile, the company has recruited new workforce to continue the production contravenous to the legality of the siutuation. The workers say that inspite of having a high court judgement which has termed this process illegal, the company continues to employ this new workforce. Violation of legal judgement may well indeed be the trail blaze, this company is setting up for future corporations.